Rafah update: "No amount of international pressure will stop us"

However, as German chancellor Scholz asks, "No matter how important the goal, can it justify such high costs?"

It's Ramzan. Families in Gaza pray in the streets amidst rubble, against a backdrop of ruined buildings (photo: DW)
It's Ramzan. Families in Gaza pray in the streets amidst rubble, against a backdrop of ruined buildings (photo: DW)


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held talks in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after an earlier stop in Jordan.

The two leaders discussed efforts towards a cease-fire, the urgent need for more humanitarian aid and Israel's planned military offensive in the southern city of Rafah.

Meanwhile, Israel is to create a remembrance day for the victims of the October 7 terror attacks.

This is a roundup of developments in the Israel-Hamas war on Sunday, March 17:

Netanyahu says Israel won't invade Rafah while civilians are 'locked in'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israeli forces would not move forward with an assault on Rafah without giving the Palestinians sheltering there an opportunity to leave.

"It's not something we will do while keeping the population locked in place. In fact, we'll do the very opposite, we will enable them to leave," he said during a news conference in Jerusalem with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Netanyahu gave is approval last week for a military assault on Rafah, a city in the south of the Gaza Strip where more than a million Palestinians have taken shelter.

The German chancellor, who is on a two-day visit to the Middle East, warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah would make regional peace "very difficult."

He called on Netanyahu to try other approaches in its war against Hamas without impacting Palestinian civilians.

"The longer the war lasts, the higher the number of civilian casualties rises, the more desperate the situation for the people of Gaza becomes, the more this begs the question, 'No matter how important the goal, can it justify such high costs or are there other ways to achieve your goal?'" Scholz said.

The chancellor also called for a deal to free the hostages captured by Palestinian militants as part of a "longer-lasting cease-fire deal" between Israel and Hamas.

He also spoke about the need to provide comprehensive humanitarian aid to Gaza residents now that the war has crossed the five-month mark.

"We cannot stand by and watch Palestinians risk starvation. That's not us. That is not what we stand for," Scholz said.

Israel creates day of remembrance for October 7 terror attack

Israel has announced plans to establish a national remembrance day for the October 7 terror attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that triggered the war in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement that the commemoration will involve ceremonies — one to honour soldiers who died in the war while the other will pay tribute to "civilians who were murdered in acts of terrorism."

The attack by Hamas on southern Israel on October 7 resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Palestinian militants also seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack.

Dozens were released during a weeklong truce in November, and Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 32 presumed dead.

Following the October 7 attack, Israel launched a military assault on Gaza to eliminate Hamas.

At least 31,645 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry

Netanyahu blasts 'inappropriate' call by US lawmaker for Israel elections

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hit back at the US Senate leader for urging the Israeli government to hold new elections when the war in Gaza against the Palestinian militant group Hamas winds down.

In a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, 14 March, Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer called for new elections and said Netanyahu was an obstacle to peace.

Schumer said it would be a "grave mistake" for Israel to reject a two-state solution and urged negotiators in the Israel-Gaza conflict to do everything possible to secure a cease-fire, free hostages and get aid into Gaza.

Responding to Schumer's remarks, Netanyahu told CNN: "I think what he said is totally inappropriate. It's inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there."

"We're not a banana republic," added the Israeli leader. "I think the only government that we should be working on to bring down now is the terrorist tyranny in Gaza, the Hamas tyranny that murdered over a thousand Israelis," Netanyahu added.

US and other world leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu's management of the war with Hamas and the failure to protect more Palestinian civilians during the military offensive.

German Air Force drops more aid into Gaza

The German Air Force says it airdropped 4.4 tons food aid into Gaza on Sunday, 17 March, in the second such mission in recent days.

The Luftwaffe posted pictures of aid being dropped from a C-130 Hercules aircraft flying out of Jordan on its social media accounts.

Several other countries, including the US, Jordan, and Egypt, also flew aid missions on Sunday.

Aid trucks have been entering Gaza's southern areas through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah Crossing and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom Crossing. At the same time, the northern parts of the strip have been largely cut off from assistance.

On Saturday, 16 March, the German Foreign Ministry said airdrops were not enough to address the urgent need for aid, and Israel needed to open more border crossings to allow the ground-delivered assistance.

It is one of the issues German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is planning to raise with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting today [ED: this was on Sunday, 17 March].

Scholz warns against a ground offensive in Rafah

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said an Israeli assault on Rafah in southern Gaza would make regional peace "very difficult."

"It is absolutely clear that we now have to do everything to prevent the situation becoming worse than it already is," Scholz said.

He spoke after talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II at the king's private residence in the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

"Right now, it is about ensuring we reach a long-lasting cease-fire," Scholz said. "That would enable us to prevent such a ground offensive from taking place."

Scholz was scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later on Sunday during his whirlwind Middle East trip.

Ahead of the meeting, the Israeli leader said his troops would pursue a planned ground offensive.

"No amount of international pressure will stop us from realising all the goals of the war: eliminating Hamas, releasing all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat against Israel," Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting in a video released by his office.

"To do this, we will also operate in Rafah," he said.

Netanyahu: Rafah operation "will take a few weeks, and it will happen"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated plans for a military operation in Rafah, the southern area in the Gaza Strip that is currently sheltering over 1 million Palestinians.

Speaking at the start of a Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel "will evacuate the civilian population from the battle zones."

"We will operate in Rafah," he said. "It will take a few weeks, and it will happen."

Israel has been insistent on the military operation despite international pressure against it.

"To our friends in the international community I say: is your memory so short? So quickly you forgot about October 7, the worst massacre committed against Jews since the Holocaust?" Netanyahu said. "So quickly you are ready to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the monsters of Hamas?"

Rafah lies in the south of the Gaza Strip, on the border with Egypt. Some 1.4 million Gaza citizens are currently there, many of whom have fled to the area over the past five months from other areas devastated by the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Gaza death toll 92 in past 24 hours, as IDF says '18 terrorists' killed

The number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours was 92, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said on Sunday. The Israeli military said its forces killed "18 terrorists" in the same period of time.

Some 130 people were also injured in Gaza during the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said.

The deaths and injuries announced Sunday bring the death toll in Gaza since October 7 to 31,645, in addition to 73,676 injuries, the ministry added.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and militants in its toll. The United Nations and other organizations largely accept its numbers as reliable.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces said it killed "18 terrorists" using sniper shots, shells and in cooperation with the air force.

Four were detected near Israeli forces, allowing the air force to close in on them and "eliminate them by aircraft."

The IDF also shared on social media photos purportedly showing the Israeli snipers in the mentioned attacks.

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization in several countries, including Israel, the United States and Germany.

Scholz to discuss cease-fire in Jordan, Israel

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II during a visit to the Middle Eastern country on Sunday, 17 March.

Later in the day, he will travel to Israel to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and the families of some of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Humanitarian aid for people in the Gaza Strip and a cease-fire are at the top of the German chancellor's agenda.

"It would be important for an agreement to be reached very quickly now on a cease-fire that would enable the hostages to be released and at the same time allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza," Scholz said ahead of a two-day trip.

"We have a difficult situation. It is necessary for aid to reach Gaza on a larger scale now," he added.

Scholz warned Israel against a military operation in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, where many internally displaced people have sought shelter amid fighting.

"We are concerned about the further progress of military developments. In particular, there is a danger that a comprehensive offensive in Rafah could result in many terrible civilian casualties, which must be avoided at all costs," Scholz said.

Israel's Security Cabinet to discuss Qatar cease-fire talks

Israel's Security Cabinet will convene on Sunday to discuss the "mandate" of a delegation set to travel to Qatar for cease-fire talks, the prime minister's office said.

The Security Cabinet and the smaller War Cabinet will "decide on the mandate of the delegation in charge of the negotiations before its departure for Doha."

It is unclear when the delegation will depart.

Netanyahu's office has said the latest Hamas offer was still based on "unrealistic demands."

Syria reports Israeli airstrikes

Syrian state media reported Israeli airstrikes in southern Syria on Sunday morning.

The strikes hit several sites and wounded a soldier, Syrian news agency SANA reported, citing an unnamed military official.

"Our air defense systems intercepted the ... missiles, downing some of them. The aggression resulted in one soldier being injured and some material losses," the Syrian army said in a statement.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, also reported Israeli airstrikes at two military sites in the south of the country.

It said the sites were located in the Qalamoun mountains, northeast of Damascus, where Hezbollah has operations. The Lebanese Shiite group, which is backed by Iran, is classified as a terrorist organization by the US, Germany and several Sunni Arab countries, while the EU lists its armed wing as a terrorist group.

Israeli authorities did not immediately comment on the incident.

Anti-government protesters and families of hostages rally in Tel Aviv

Thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities on Saturday night, demanding the release of the hostages held by the Islamist militant group Hamas in Gaza calling for fresh elections.

The protesters included relatives of the hostages as well as opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Several demonstrations occurred in Tel Aviv, blocking main roads. In some instances, protesters scuffled with police.

"Our prime minister has forgotten that he is also the prime minister of 134 hostages," the DPA news agency quoted one relative as saying at a protest.

"They have no more time, we have no more time. Do something now, we need you!"

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, hundreds of people also gathered outside the residence of President Isaac Herzog.

In the October 7 terror attacks on southern Israel, Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and took some 240 more hostage. About 100 of them were released during a temporary November cease-fire.

Israel, Germany and the United States are among the countries that classify Hamas as a terror organization.

zc/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP, DPA)

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